Omar Salgado played for the Mexican youth team before declaring for the USA this summer.
Courtesy of Vancouver Whitecaps

Teen phenom Salgado stands by US decision

NEW YORK – The Mexican national team has not relented in its pursuit to lure back 17-year-old MLS SuperDraft prospect Omar Salgado from the US squad. Under FIFA rules, Salgado doesn’t have to make a final decision until age 21.

“[Mexico Under-20 coach Juan Carlos Chávez] talked to me and told me that if I wanted to go back to Mexico, my spot was open,” Salgado told about a conversation held this past Sunday. “But I have already made up my mind: I want to play for the United States. I hope that‘s how it’s going to be.”

Salgado was a starter for Thomas Rongen’s US U-20 side last Sunday in a 1-1 tie against their Mexican counterparts. In that match, Salgado says he was a target of rough play from his former Tri teammates. That’s because the El Paso, Texas, native has bounced back and forth between the Mexico and US national teams in recent years before settling on the American side.

Playing for the US was one reason Salgado left the youth team program of Mexican giants Chivas de Guadalajara this past June.

Chivas director of soccer Efraín Flores told Mexican daily Récord this week that “talents we are capturing are escaping Chivas and MLS is stealing them just like that.”

Flores also said that Salgado told Chivas that he was going back home to El Paso to study and not to play soccer. They were surprised to learn that he had signed with MLS in the summer, six months before he is eligible to join a team through the 2011 SuperDraft.

Salgado says Flores went to his house in El Paso to convince him to return to Chivas, but it was too late.

“They treated me well, but I stopped playing,” Salgado said of his 18 months with the Chivas academy. “I was the one scoring the most goals, but I was the one with the least minutes. I didn’t understand. So I decided it wasn’t going to happen there and I would try to go back to the US.”

Salgado says he never knew he was going to sign with MLS. The interest from the league only came after he was scouted at a US U-20 camp in Northern California in late June, following the expiration of his Chivas academy contract.

Playing in the US national-team system would likely not have allowed Salgado to continue with the Rebaño Sagrado anyway because of the club’s policy to field only Mexico-eligible players. Although he also has Mexican citizenship, playing for the US would have made him persona non grata at the club.

At the time, he was one of five American players, including three youth squad players and one first team starter, in the Guadalajara ranks.

“I felt that they didn’t like it at all,” Salgado said of playing for US national team. “Everybody out there would tell me, ‘You have to go to the Mexican national team, it’s a better option.’ I figured out if I got to the American national team, I’ll never play for [Chivas'] first team ... because they’re not going to let it happen.”

Salgado considers himself more American than Mexican. Although both his parents lived in Chihuahua, Mexico, his mother was born in the US and had an American upbringing while his dad comes from a Spanish household. Salgado is one consul visit away from picking up his EU passport through his dad.

Up next for the forward are two U-20 camps in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., sandwiched around the Christmas holidays. Salgado expects to be part of both and is unsure at this point whether he’ll participate in the MLS Player Combine.

Salgado has already trained with five MLS teams, including Vancouver, who own the first pick in the 2011 SuperDraft. The Whitecaps wanted him for their recent training stint in California, but he declined the invite.

“I’d love to be the No. 1 draft pick for Vancouver, but any team that picks me is great,” Salgado said. “I’ll be happy with any team and I’ll do my best with any team. I’ll try to score as many goals and make an impact in my first season.”

Ready to Launch: MLS Matchday 2010, The official MLS iPhone app. It's FREE! Download it here!

Stay connected: Get access to breaking news, videos, and analysis from North America's best soccer reporters via "This Week in MLS" newsletter or using our FREE mobile app.